Opinion | Greta-fication is not going to help us fight climate change4 min read . Updated: 13 Oct 2019, 10:17 PM IST
To stop global warming, we need reason and rationality, not panic, pedophrasty and poor science
In 2007, Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for terrifying the world about imminent climate Armageddon, including countries sinking under rising seas. In 2010, he bought a $9 million oceanfront villa in California. Could he have lied? Okay, exaggerated wildly?
Global warming must be mitigated. But spreading panic—like “climate justice warriors", embodied by Greta Thunberg, are doing—won’t create solutions, especially for a problem as complex as climate change. More than ever, faced with this great challenge, we need reason and rationality. Yet, last fortnight, hordes of people shared a BBC report on an iceberg breaking off from the Antarctic land mass, without even reading the piece, where scientists said it had nothing to do with climate change. This is what panic does.
Bibek Bhattacharya, in his 7 October column, “Greta Thunberg’s clarity of thought has shaken us up", written in response to my 30 September piece on the exploitation of the Swedish teenager, makes several points. Let me address these.
One, the science. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Special Report On The Ocean And Cryosphere In A Changing Climate (SROCC) last month. Let’s compare the SROCC press release with the report itself. The media would’ve relied a lot on the press note.
Press release: “Glaciers, snow, ice and permafrost are declining and will continue to do so (in high mountain regions)." Report: “There are clear knowledge gaps (about) cryospheric variables, in particular the extent and ice content of permafrost in mountains but also current glacier ice volumes, trends in lake and river ice, and the spatial and temporal variation of snow cover… These knowledge gaps impede efforts…to calibrate and validate models that simulate the past and future evolution of the cryosphere." I can cite many other such “deviations", but am constrained by space. These doubts are tucked away at the ends of the report’s lengthy chapters. How many people read that much? And how much of the SROCC could be alarmist guesswork?
Even the IPCC’s basic methodology may be doubtful. It averages 29 climate models to reach its forecast. A paper in the January issue of Nature Climate Change by Veronika Eyring of the University of Bremen and others, shows that this is leading to grave errors.
Example: The averaging finds large swathes of the oceanic body which separates South America, Africa and Australia from Antarctica, to be warmer than they actually are, so while the ocean’s southern margin is mostly sea-ice, the IPCC sees it as liquid water. Eyring shows why models should be given different weights and how to do this.
Two, child exploitation by the hard left. Thunberg seems to see economic growth and wealth as evil, calls for a revolution, and has no real solutions except for, maybe, a global no-fossil-fuels-from-tonight dictatorship. Sounds like deep-end communism to me.
Bhattacharya says that “kids are easy targets because their passion can be conveniently mocked". It’s exactly the opposite. Iconoclast scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines “pedophrasty" thus: “Argument involving children to prop up a rationalization and make the opponent look like an a**hole, as people are defenceless and suspend all scepticism in front of suffering children." Pedophrasts prey on our parental instincts. Yes, kids are easy targets, but for amoral activists. There is a reason why kids are not allowed to vote, sign contracts, and are not punished like adults by the criminal justice system.
Lastly, Bhattacharya sees no relevance of Thunberg having Asperger’s to her UN speech. On 23 September, soon after watching the speech, @bearshrugged, father of a child with Asperger’s, posted a deeply moving tweet thread (bit.ly/2oYaw0T), which begins: “I do not care what one believes about the climate, but I do care that people understand what is happening with this young lady." Here’s an edited version of his thread. “Two characteristics that Asperger’s sufferers have are ‘literalism’ and ‘rigidity’ of thought. If they establish a set of ‘facts’ in their minds, it gets so fixed that contrary facts presented to them are rejected. If the counter-information continues, the sufferer becomes frustrated, then angry.
“Now imagine such a person hearing that the earth’s atmosphere is heating at an incredible pace, humans are causing this rapid heating, and the planet is going to die if it is not fixed in 12 years. You have the anxiety of being told you are going to die, coupled with the frustration of contra-facts butting against your established ‘facts’. Parents of children with Asperger’s struggle against this convergence every day.
“When I see Ms. Thunberg, I see all the frustration of my child, with no attempt being made to give her perspective and flexibility of thought. Seeing her frustration and tears at the UN makes me angry. She is being compelled into corners her mind has difficulty navigating, and only feeds her fears of literal death. Someone should be helping her navigate her rigidity and anxiety, not using it as an ‘automatia’ prop. Those pushing her into the spotlight on these issues deserve shame."
What is being done to this girl is unforgivable.
Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines